Amsterdam (city, Netherlands)
Amsterdam (ăm´stərdăm´, Dutch ämstərdäm´), city (1994 pop. 724,096), constitutional capital and largest city of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, North Holland prov., W Netherlands, on the IJ, an inlet of the Markermeer. The city derives its name from the fact that it is situated where the small, bifurcated Amstel River (which empties into the IJ) is joined by a sluice dam (originally built c.1240).
The city is cut by about 40 concentric and radial canals that are flanked by streets and crossed by 400 bridges. The canals give the city its nickname, "Venice of the North." Because of the underlying soft ground, Amsterdam is built on wooden and concrete piles. The many old and picturesque houses along the canals, once patrician dwellings, are now mostly offices and warehouses. The main streets of Amsterdam are the Dam, on which stand the Nieuwe Kerk (15th–17th cent.) and the 17th-century Dam Palace (formerly the city hall, since 1808 a royal palace); the Damrak, with the stock exchange (completed 1903); and the Kalverstraat and Leidenschestraat, which are the chief shopping centers. Notable buildings are the Oude Kerk [old church], built in 1334; the weighhouse (15th cent.); the city hall (16th cent.); and the Beguinage (Dutch Begijnenhof), or almshouses, of the 17th cent. An ethnically diverse city, Amsterdam has many new residents from former Dutch colonies, including Indonesia and Suriname. Near Amsterdam is the Bosplan, an enormous man-made national park.
A major port, Amsterdam is also the seat of one of the world's chief stock exchanges, a center of the diamond-cutting industry, and one of the great commercial, intellectual, and artistic capitals of Europe. Its manufactures include clothing, printed materials, and metal goods. Amsterdam is connected with the North Sea by the North Sea Canal (opened in 1876), which can accommodate large oceangoing vessels, and by the older North Holland Canal (opened 1824). The Amsterdam-Rhine Canal connects the city with the Rhine delta and thus with industrial NW Germany, with which there is considerable transit trade. Amsterdam is a major road and rail hub and is served by nearby Schiphol airport. Tourism is an important industry.
Rembrandt and the other Dutch masters are best represented in the world famous Rijksmuseum, or National Museum, founded in 1808 by Bonaparte. Among the many other notable museums are the municipal museum, the Van Gogh museum, the Stedelijk Museum with an outstanding collection of contemporary art, the National Maritime Museum, the Hermitage (an extension of the St. Petersburg, Russia, museum), the house of Anne Frank, and Rembrandt's house. Amsterdam is also famous for the Concertgebouw Orchestra. The Univ. of Amsterdam, which was founded as an academy in 1632 and achieved university status in 1876, is the largest center of learning in the Netherlands. The Free Univ. (1880; Calvinist) also is there. The city's large modern library is the Centrale Bibliotheek (2007).
Amsterdam was chartered c.1300 and in 1369 joined the Hanseatic League. Having accepted the Reformation, the people in 1578 expelled the pro-Spanish magistrates and joined the independence-oriented Netherland provinces. The commercial decline of Antwerp and Ghent and a large influx of refugees from many nations (in particular of Flemish merchants, Jewish diamond cutters and merchants, and French Huguenots), contributed to the rapid growth of Amsterdam after the late 16th cent. The Peace of Westphalia (1648), by closing the Scheldt (Escaut) to navigation, further stimulated the city's growth at the expense of the Spanish Netherlands. Amsterdam reached its apex as an intellectual and artistic center in the 17th cent., when, because of its tolerant government, it became a center of liberal thought and book printing. The city was captured by the French in 1795 and became the capital of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, which was ruled by Louis Bonaparte. The constitution of 1814 made it the capital of the Netherlands; the sovereigns are usually sworn in at Amsterdam and reside in a palace outside the city. However, The Hague is the seat of government. During World War II Amsterdam was occupied by German troops (1940–45) and suffered severe hardship. Most of the city's Jews (c.75,000 in 1940) were deported and killed by the Germans. Since the 1960s Amsterdam has become known for political and social activism.
See R. Kistemaker and R. Van Gelder, Amsterdam (1983).